4 in 5 Citizens Advice clients who have claimed Universal Credit reported having difficulty managing to pay their rent, and afford to pay for food and gas and electricity whilst waiting for their first payment.
Problems managing until the first Universal Credit payment is a key issue with the new benefit, reveals new research by 16 local Citizens Advice offices.
Citizens Advice Wirral yesterday joined 15 other local Citizens Advice offices to launch their joint report Waiting for Credit at the Houses of Parliament. The report sets out the results of the research carried out by these local offices into the how the delivery of Universal Credit is affecting their clients. About one in ten of all Citizens Advice clients in England and Wales who have been given advice about Universal Credit were interviewed for the research. At yesterday’s launch, at a meeting chaired by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thomson, representatives of the 16 local offices meet with MPs and peers about the issues raised by their report.
The system assumes claimants will have their final month’s wages to live off whilst waiting six weeks for their first payment of Universal Credit. However the research revealed that about 6 in 10 of Citizens Advice clients who had claimed Universal Credit because they had just lost their job had been paid weekly or fortnightly. Not only had they struggled to pay essential costs whilst trying to make one weeks wages last for 6 weeks, many reported that this period had tipped them into debt and made looking for work more difficult. Advance payments (loans of benefit) were only able to help some people.
It wasn’t just those paid weekly or fortnightly who really struggled. 3 in 10 of all those Citizens Advice clients who had claimed Universal Credit had not received payment after six weeks and 1 in 10 had waited more than two months for their first payment. Many others had only received partial payment when their first payment was due.
A number of administrative problems caused these delays. For example – more than half of all clients in the survey had been asked to provide documents that had already been provided and scanned into the DWP system.
IT problems also played their part – one flaw in the IT system meant that some claimants could have their online claim accepted and be told that they would be contacted in a few days time only to find when they ring to find out why they haven’t been contacted that there is no trace of their claim. One client had his claim accepted by the system and then deleted by the system twelve times over a six month period before it was finally put into payment.
Carol Johnson-Eyre of Citizens Advice Wirral office said “We agree that the benefits system needs simplifying and we support Universal Credit and its aims. However Universal Credit will not achieve its aims unless the problems identified in this report are resolved.”